Nineteenth Session

Rome, 13-16 April 2005

Impact of Sustainable Livelihoods Approaches on Poverty Reduction

Table of Contents

Annex 1: Case Studies Reviewed

I. Introduction

1. This information paper responds to the request of the Committee on Agriculture (COAG), during its Seventeenth Session in 2003, for FAO to identify and document specific examples where applications of the rural livelihoods approach had led to success in reducing rural poverty.

2. Sustainable Livelihoods Approaches (SLAs) emerged as a means to more effective and relevant poverty reduction by focusing on the livelihoods perspective of the poor, and by applying a set of good development principles which are, inter alia: people-centred; participatory; empowering; sustainable; multi-level; in partnership; long-term and flexible. A number of organizations have sought to enhance poverty reduction through mainstreaming these principles and by applying a holistic perspective in providing support to improve livelihoods.

3. The FAO Livelihoods Support Programme undertook a desk review to examine poverty reduction outcomes of 12 country case studies (see Annex 1) in which SL principles were applied and for which a certain amount of evaluation data was available. The cases, seven from FAO and five from other sources, were from different geographical and agro-ecological regions and represented different scales of intervention. The study did not attempt a comparative analysis with cases in which SL principles were not applied, but focused on whether the cases studied achieved positive changes in indicators of poverty reduction such as increased income, increased household food security, improved basic needs, improved human rights, and enhanced access to public goods and services.1

4. This note reviews the main study findings, emerging issues and insights to enhance the effectiveness of rural livelihoods interventions.

II. Overview of Findings

5. The SLAs embody good principles of development and specifically incorporate principles associated with a) building assets (human, social, physical, financial and natural); b) focusing upon livelihoods (comprising capabilities, assets and activities required as a means of living); c) reducing vulnerability to stresses and shocks; and d) enhancing sustainability.

6. The desk review suggests that SL approaches can contribute to real poverty reduction if applied effectively. The more successful cases appeared to be those that applied the greater number of SLA-specific principles along with a mix of other important principles of development.

7. While all cases applied SL principles, few set out specifically to implement a sustainable livelihoods approach per se. All cases reviewed demonstrated, to some degree, enhanced assets, improved governance (with multi-level linkages), a focus on livelihoods strategies for the poor, as well as being multi-sectoral, participatory, people-centred, process oriented with a degree of flexibility, conducted in partnership.

8. In general the cases demonstrated improvements in the lives and resilience of the rural poor through some combination of increased income, diversification of income sources, improved basic needs and services, better access to productive resources, increased agricultural production (through diversification, intensification, and value addition) and enhanced household food security and nutrition.

9. There were several cases in which dramatic changes were made in women’s capacities and confidence. One FAO project in Nepal (Empowerment of Women in Irrigation and Water Resources Management for Improved Food Security, Nutrition, and Health (WIN)) successfully empowered women in irrigation management and provided access to resources for other marginalized groups while addressing food security, nutrition and health concerns. Project interventions included diversification of production systems and farm-based enterprise development to impact over 2 555 households resulting in increased income and food secure months. Women gained capacity through group formation efforts including water users committees; participation in water management and group savings; training in literacy, leadership, gender, and women’s rights; and access to women friendly technologies.

10. Only a few cases focused on wealth generation through non-agricultural enterprises and skills. In Yemen, the FAO Community-Based Regional Development Programme (CBRDP) provided training to improve technical, organizational and financial skills. Vocational training was given in 14 fields ranging from carpentry to ceramics production. Training in project proposal development enabled newly formed community organizations to attract US$698 000 to a revolving credit fund for local development.

11. A number of case studies demonstrated reduced vulnerability. The Rural Development in Lempira Sur Project (PROLESUR) implemented by FAO in Honduras supported the communal recovery of natural assets. The region was able to withstand the ravages of Hurricane Mitch by promoting locally coordinated production and land management technologies that mimic natural ecosystems, such as soil conservation and reforestation interventions. These efforts combined with improved preservation and storage technologies allowed communities, formerly recipients of food aid, to maintain a grain surplus throughout the disasters.

III. Emerging Issues and Insights

12. While positive results were reported in many cases, success in addressing social inclusivity and long-term sustainability was evident in only a few cases. The most vulnerable groups without assets to build upon continued to be excluded. Long-term sustainability particularly related to the environment remained an issue. Evaluation of effective impact was hampered in several cases by a lack of sufficient monitoring and evaluation data.

13. Several of the more successful projects, particularly in Honduras and Yemen, showed remarkably similar patterns of implementation with respect to institutional linkages and sequencing of actions: collaborative diagnosis, planning and evaluation; risk minimization; profit generation; vocational/technical training and training of local trainers; locally accessible financial services; establishment or enhancement of community development associations with organizational development training; links and partnerships with local and national government and NGOs; community benefit activities; and multi-sectoral interventions.

IV. The Way Forward

14. In summary, the evidence gathered from exploring successful examples suggests that effective incorporation of the good principles of development associated with the SLAs are required to set the stage for reducing poverty. The analysis indicates that the SL principles addressing social inclusivity and environmental sustainability need to be kept more to the forefront. Using a livelihoods perspective along with a good developmental tool kit and a proper sense of good sequencing can enhance the quality of a wide range of approaches to improve the lives of the rural poor.

15. It is suggested that the present trend of increasing use of SL-type approaches and related methods and principles in FAO’s field work be encouraged and supported by COAG.


1 Constance Neely, Kirsten Sutherland, & Jan Johnson (October 2004), Do Sustainable Livelihoods Approaches Have a Positive Impact on the Rural Poor? - A look at twelve case studies. FAO LSP Working Paper 16, 115 pages.


Annex 1: Case Studies Reviewed



Implementing Organization

Entry Point

Project Time Frame


Strengthening Household Access to Bari Garden Extension Services (SHABGE)





Inter-regional Project for Participatory Upland Conservation and Development

Government of Italy/FAO

Integrated Watershed Management

1992-2000 (three phases)


Participatory Natural Resource Management in the Tonle Sap Region

FAO/ Government of Cambodia

Community Fisheries and Forestry

1995-2004 (ongoing)


The Ruba Lomine Integrated Rural Development Programme





The Lowlands Agricultural Development Programme (LADEP)





Rural Development in Lempira Sur Project (PROLESUR)





DELIVERI – Decentralized Livestock Services in Eastern Indonesia


Livestock Services



Environmentally Sustainable Food Security and Micro-Income Opportunities in Critical Watersheds

FAO/ Forest Department of the Government of Myanmar

Food security; Natural resource rehabilitation; Income-generating opportunities



Empowerment of Women in Irrigation and Water Resource Management for Improved Food Security, Nutrition and Health (WIN)


Irrigation, Health, Nutrition



Inter-regional Project for Participatory Upland Conservation and Development

FAO/ Government of Pakistan

Integrated Watershed Management



Community-Based Regional Development Programme (CBRDP)


Community Enterprises



Improving Household Food Security and Nutrition through Community Empowerment in the Luapula Valley